Sunday, September 06, 2009

6 SEP 09: Halfway Over the Hill

LAWRENCE, KS - "I was clueless," my older brother said after he discovered a big surprise in this college town Saturday. This is one time when I probably can declare my older brother clueless, without getting him upset.

BLOG SPECIAL EVENT: Weeks of secrecy ended for my family Saturday, when we surprised my older brother with a 60th birthday party. It happened halfway up a hill, overlooking the University of Kansas football stadium. Yes, we made sure there was a football game scheduled below.

No one in my family told my older brother a tent was reserved especially for his birthday. And no one told him I was part of the surprise -- traveling more than 800 miles by car over two days to get here. I left Columbus at midday Thursday. So if Bert Coker stumped Susan Andrews on the school sales tax question, someone need to post it on YouTube before long.

The trip to Lawrence took two days by car. And to make sure my older brother wouldn't know I was coming, I'm staying for a few days at the home of his oldest niece and her family. In fact, I took a route to avoid the entire county where my brother lives. Do you think that was a little too cautious?

My older brother's wife and daughters started planning this "60th surprise" last spring. The party tent was catered, so that didn't take much work. But coordinating the details to keep my brother in the dark was another matter. My sister-in-law admitted she almost spilled the beans a few times. Regular poker playing helps prevent things like that....

I faced my own surprise challenge to keep the secret last Sunday night. My older brother rarely calls me, but he did it to ask if I'd received a birthday card he mailed me. In truth, I have NOT -- and if someone at the Columbus Post Office stole it, you owe me dinner at Applebee's for that gift card inside.

My older brother didn't ask any probing questions about his upcoming birthday, so I didn't have to invent any dodging answers. Playing moderately dumb worked -- such as asking nonchalantly if college football season was about to start.

To make sure my part of the secret wasn't given away, my car was NOT parked outside my niece's house Saturday. My older brother and sister-in-law were meeting relatives there, so I parked at the far end of a Catholic Church parking lot a block away. That niece and her family are Catholic now, so hopefully they'll add an extra offering in my behalf.

Family members including myself made our way to the Kansas football stadium more than three hours before kickoff. But parking and driving on campus already were restricted, so coolers with beer were dropped off near the Student Union to be carried to the party tent. The campus caterers do NOT provide beer -- which has to frustrate Bud Light, which makes beer cans in college colors now.

For about 15 minutes, I guarded over two half-full cases of beer and a heavy ice cooler at a curb near the football stadium -- only hours after attending a church service. This was no time to attempt to convert passing students. Especially since I wouldn't know a real ID card from a fake one....

Slowly the family members, friends and party items assembled at tent #8. We made sure my older brother showed up last, about 90 minutes before kickoff. How my sister-in-law arranged for the Jayhawk mascot to show up for pictures moments before my brother arrived, I may never know.

We're sadly unable to post pictures from the road, so photos of the surprise party will have to wait until we're back in Columbus. But my older brother posed with both Jayhawk mascots and a couple of cheerleaders -- while it was left to me to notice a couple of passing "Rock Chalk Dancers," and admit to them I wished I was an undisclosed number of years younger.

Several family members offered me a ticket to the football games, but I politely turned them down. I noted to one the 6:00 p.m. CT kickoff was too early for me. I worship a different God on Saturdays than a brown oval one made of leather....

So as the first half of the Northern Colorado-Kansas game unfolded, I intentionally sat with my back turned to the stadium below -- looking at fans watching the game for free from a distance, higher up Mount Oread. I'm now ready to apply for work as one of those "event staff" crowd-control security guards.

One woman at the birthday party admitted she didn't attend any Kansas football games last year. "How will we know when it's halftime?" she asked.
"The marching band will come on the field and play a few songs," I answered quietly. This is why they still need to show the bands on TV.

Sundown came during halftime, so I was able to turn the folding chair around and watch the third quarter from a distance. Without binoculars, it was hard to see much. That wasn't the case when I was in college 30 years ago -- because no one had invented a giant video board to block the view from an end zone.

If you didn't hear, Kansas crushed Northern Colorado 49-3 in the season opener. Earlier in the day, Oklahoma State stomped Georgia 24-10 -- so the Big 12 might actually be bigger than the Southeastern Conference in something other than basketball.

Several other things happened during the afternoon, to show I come from a humorous family....
+ My middle niece is six months' pregnant -- and her husband recently bought her a "maternity sized" shirt that didn't quite cover her belly. In his words: "It's maternity wear for a supermodel who swallowed a pinball."

+ That husband also dared to wear a Kansas State jersey at a party filled with arch-rival Kansas fans. That's because he graduated from Kansas State -- and came prepared with headphones to listen to THAT game, instead of the game in the stadium. All he had to do was raise his hands at the happiest moments....

+ My youngest niece (about age 25) escorted one of my oldest nieces daughters into the stadium. But they sat in the student section, and the mentor reported at halftime the nine-year-old daughter grew tired of "nasty words she didn't like." The Catholic grade school is teaching that girl well.

+ The youngest niece escorted that nine-year-old to the restroom -- but as she did, a freshman guy asked the 25-year-old to escort HIM to the bathroom as well. "It's my first game," the young man admitted to her. If I had done that during college and roommates knew about it, they would have disowned me to this day.

E-MAIL UPDATE: Since we intentionally kept this Blog Special Event a secret, we'll go ahead and respond to a comment about one of our Friday Instant Messages (timed to post while we were on the road)....

You can tell you are not from the deep South when you turn your nose up at fried bologna..You have never had a fried bologna sandwich with a fried egg on it have you? It ranks right up there with collards and pork chops in my book..Yummy!

OK, I'll confess -- I've never had a fried bologna sandwich. But why is Hardee's the only restaurant chain which seems to be offering it? If I don't see it advertised at Ruth Ann's, it may simply be as flashy in the frying pan as overheating canola oil.

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: We'll be in a "road mode" for the next few days. But we prepared several posts in advance, so we should only miss one daily entry.)

The number of unique visitors to our blog in the first half of 2009 was up 11.1 percent! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, make a PayPal donation or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post your e-mail comment and offer a reply.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: suspended due to road trip

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